GRASP Explanation Handout

Master the Art of Comprehending Latin

Paedagogica Index


The Idea of GRASP      GRASP Preface     Go to a sample GRASP text.



Here is an especially useful exercise, particularly for those who need extra help in Latin-comprehension. Teachers might distribute simple Latin prose-selections accompanied by English translations and have students follow the pattern described here.



GRASP Exercises for Reading Mastery


This exercise is designed to increase your immediate comprehension and appropriation of Latin vocabulary and syntax. Following the model below, break down and re-present any Latin sentence in increasingly complex meaningful units. Keep two separate columns:



He perceived.

Tempus agnovit.

He perceived the time.

Vocationis suae tempus agnovit.

He perceived the time of his (own) call.

Vocationis suae ad Deum tempus agnovit.

He perceived the time of his call to God.

Septimo anno vocationis suae ad Deum tempus agnovit.

In the seventh year, he perceived the time of his call to God.

Septimo regni sui anno vocationis suae ad Deum tempus agnovit.

In the seventh year of his reign, he perceived the time of his call to God.

Septimo denique regni sui anno vocationis suae ad Deum tempus agnovit.

Finally, in the seventh year of his reign, he perceived the time of his call to God.



(1) Each new line is grammatically complete and intelligible in itself, starting with the primary elements of the major units of the sentence.

(2) In the simplest form of GRASP, each line adds something to the one before it, so that you usually will not write a line that is shorter than the one immediately above it.

(3) There is not one single way to present a sentence. If one starts with a long "when-clause," you could first learn to understand that clause before adding the rest of the sentence. When you turn to the primary clause, you might start a new series, beginning with the verb. Eventually you would hook the subordinate and main clauses together, to finish with the sentence in its entirety.

(4) You will not always have to add only one word at a time. Sometimes you will need to add a phrase of 2 or 3 words, as, for example, when a verb or preposition needs an object to be understood.

(5) Work up to understanding the Latin in the Latin order. Do not write or understand the Latin in the order of English syntax.

(6) You can insert variations on forms and syntax to further enhance your mastery. For example, when you have the word "he perceived," you might write "he will perceive," "he used to perceive," "he has perceived," etc. In the same way, you can practice changing the order in which the sentence is written, to go from an obvious syntax to a more obscure one: "Tempus suae vocationis agnovit." is Latin order, but still closer to English. "Vocationis suae tempus agnovit." is a further inversion that may be harder to grasp at first.

(7) Your learning can be greatly enhanced by adding one more step: After you have finished the two vertical columns, return to your exercises a little while later and, covering the Latin side, attempt to translate from the English back to the Latin, line by line.





It is easier to start with a sentence the meaning of which you already know from a translation, but having the English equivalent is not at all necessary for attempting a GRASP analysis.

Work towards the full sentence, writing out both the Latin and the English. This way it will become very clear, both to you and to your instructors, just exactly where your comprehension difficulty lies.

This method is slow and repetitious, but that is part of the secret of its power. GRASP exercises are simple, and yet they are a tremendously effective way to learn how to comprehend Latin. If you work on a computer and type well, you will make faster progress; if you are able to do the exercises orally, you will gain additional speed. But remember: you have to spend a certain amount of time in order to appropriate the language well. The main virtue of this technique is that it helps to assure the essential repetition, attention, and focus on word, phrase, structure, and meaning. In short, it facilitates real mastery.


GRASP Preface    Sample GRASP text






navigation bar latin teaching materials classics programs current course offerings faculty Latin, Greek, and Classical Humanities at SLU


© 1997 - 2009 Claude Pavur, from the Latin Teaching Materials at Saint Louis University website.  This material is being made freely available for non-commercial educational use.